The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

The hot Apple time machine

Apple's new iBooks 2 app is demonstrated for the media on an iPad at an event in the Guggenheim Museum, January 19, 2012 in New York City.
Apple's new iBooks 2 app is demonstrated for the media on an iPad at an event in the Guggenheim Museum, January 19, 2012 in New York City. Mario Tama/Getty Images

We've all done it. Lamented the fact that we didn't load up on Apple stock back in the day, when it was trading at $10 or $15 a share and and the company, with Steve Jobs in exile, was fumbling toward bankruptcy. 

What a difference a decade makes. Apple is now either the most valuable company in the world or among the most valuable, depending on what the stock market is doing on a given day. Fifteen bucks a share to $533. Zowie!

Oh, how easy it is to set the investment time machine to 1999 and say that you would have bought AAPL instead of sinking your dough blindly into a 401(k) or chasing a "superstar," post-IPO.

At USA Today, Matt Krantz throws some cold water on that nostalgia trip. Should you consider Apple, which has risen nearly 5,000 percent since 1999, the big beating heart of a current retirement plan? Nope:

The trouble is, it's not 1999, it's 2012. Back in 1999, Apple was a tired has-been technology company clawing its way to survival. All the interest was centered around dot-coms, which investors thought had huge growth ahead of them for years. Who would have wanted to invest in a retro maker of high-priced proprietary PCs? Clearly, though, the stock did incredibly well, despite the reasonable reasons to think it wouldn't.

You can see what happened. Apple transformed itself from a "retro maker of high-priced proprietary PCs" to a consumer-products colossus. It started with the iPod. It exploded with the iPhone. It was consolidated with the iPad. Tomorrow, in fact, the much-anticipated Apple announcement/event regarding the new or updated iPad is expected to rectify the recent fall in Apple's share price.

The only people who really have no excuse for not buying Apple back in '99 are the people who, before the company's decline and since its astonishing recovery, were Apple loyalists. Then again, they couldn't have seen what was coming. If Apple recovered, for these folks, it would have returned to being a cool company with its special creative niche. 

It's become something altogether different: a gadgetmaker for the masses. And total transformation is a very hard thing to invest in.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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